Stavros Fasoulas
At the PCW (now ECTS) show in London, a young Finnish programmer called Stavros Fasoulas came up to Newsfield's stand, and talked to people in Thalamus about the opportunity to program some games for them. Thalamus signed him up, and in November 1986, the first seeds of fruition were shown in the shoot'em up Sanxion, with Gary Liddon of Zzap! and Andrew Wright (he of ex-Activision and 'flat top head') overseeing production. The game itself had a nice viewpoint with overhead as well as horizontal views, but for C64 historians there are two important things to note: firstly, it was the very first game to use John Twiddy's Cyberload loading system which contained the now infamous message "hackers f*** off and die" in the memory, and secondly, Thalamusik, Rob Hubbard's loading theme which many still believe is the finest C64 tune ever made.

Stavros' next game was Delta in 1987, a progressive shoot'em up with a slight twist - all the weapons only lasted a certain amount of time, so they could run out and leave you in the lurch! Again, this had another unique first - the first use of "Mix-E-Load" which allowed the user to mix at will Rob Hubbard's loading theme. The brooding, lengthy ingame music was suggested by Liddon; to make it sound like Pink Floyd. Many jingles hidden away in the music code were small parts of Thalamusik and the Sanxion title theme, and they were meant to have been used for little extra life jingles etc. Gary Penn gained no friends though when his outspoken comments about Delta being "boring" and the fact that "I don't like the computer dictate the action for me" downmarked heavily Zzap! 64's rating. I must add that Zzap!'s reviews were wholly independent of whatever Thalamus might have thought. Indeed Commodore User rated Delta more than Zzap! did.

Before heading off to do his military service, Stavros' did one last game for Thalamus called Quedex (or to give it its full title, the Quest For Ultimate Dexterity). Based on ten levels, you controlled a ball in a race against time trying to find each exit. What made it also difficult was that you could only see a small part of the screen as well so you would whizz around in the vain hope of finding the way out... and then dying. Very frenetic.

Jacco van 't Riet (Jaws of Boys Without Brains) told us recently that he's been in contact with Stavros who now lives in San Fransisco. According to Jacco, Stavros has never touched a computer after he left the C64, he has only surfed the internet once and doesn't have email.

Martin Walker
Another programmer who had caught Thalamus' eye was Martin Walker. After producing two Rupert the Bear-related games as well as Chameleon for Electric Dreams, his next project was Hunter's Moon. Released in late 1987, it remains one of the most under-rated C64 games ever. Very much a thinking man's shoot em up, you had to control the Hunter to find Starcells in each level. The aliens you encountered required different strategies to kill, and together with some excellent brooding human-like sound effects made for a tense atmosphere. Particularly one thing I love also is the loopspace pause mode, where you could create patterns with the various alien movements (very Jeff Minter-esque.)

Although we heard nothing for a few months from Thalamus, we were treated to some subliminal advertising which heralded two of 1988's biggest games - Hawkeye and Armalyte. At the same time Thalamus realised that they had gained a following of game fanatics, so in response you could order the Thalamus T-shirt.

Hawkeye and Armalyte: The hits of '88
Hawkeye was then released in August 1988 to much applause. Not only did Mix-E-Load return, with this time Jeroen Tel producing the music for the loader (and the game) but also the game had an interactive story as a separate load which explained the plot. Nice touch. The game itself was horizontally scrolling platform mayhem, with many an alien after the SLF (synthetic life form) that your character was. Collecting the puzzle pieces needed was a touch difficult, but the end of the level was a nice touch - the next level loaded as the level complete bonuses etc. were added. And if you were really good to get through the first five levels without dying, you got a secret level too.

November 1988 was another gaming pinnacle in Armalyte. Thalamus' marketing decided to subtitle it Delta 2 which was a little unfair on both games. However, Armalyte was a rather good shoot'em up, with lots of colour and effects, a superb loading tune by Martin Walker, and a game that you had to really play in two player co-operative mode (with the second player controlling your helper drone ship when achieved) for best effect. And if you actually battled through the whole game, you were rewarded with a superb little end sequence that made completing the game well worth it.

1989: Snare, Retrograde and The Search For Sharla
1989 saw the release of another mean game, Snare. I say mean because the game involved you manouvering your ship around 20 areas in a void, called The Snare, and if you completed them, the end sequence is something you will either laugh or get frustrated at! And then in Christmas 1989, an unexpected surprise - Retrograde. Programmed by the team of John and Steve Rowlands with Rob Ellis (as they were Transmission Software back then) the game was released to much applause. More than just a shoot'em up, it required tactitcal elements in buying weapons, selling them off at a price less than you paid for them (all in the mysterious ARA currency) so you could equip your craft with the right weaponry, and not just that of course - big, mf end of level aliens. As well as that, the disk version had a nice music selector with some of Steve Rowlands' great tunes.

Also in 1989, there was the mystery that was The Search For Sharla. It was meant to be a large exploration game, but was never finished, despite Steve Rowlands making some graphics for the end sequence, and was going to rival Freescape (the system used in Incentive's Driller) in terms of viewpoints and freedom of movement around the levels.

1990: Heatseeker, Summer Camp and the big hit Creatures
1990 saw three more Thalamus games as now they were realising their popularity along with the fact that programmers realised their quality product could be associated with them. So we received Heatseeker, a very strange platform/puzzle game which, like programmer Paul O'Malley's previous game Arac, was very peculiar to work out. Mark Clements, who composed the music for the game, told me recently that he actually did two drafts for the game's music but they were not used as they didn't leave enough memory for the game. Then there was Summer Camp programmed by John Ferrari (who also made famous budget label games such as Mastertronic's The Human Race, Codemasters' Moto X amongst others) which was a jolly game featuring Maximus Mouse walking around platformed levels collecting pieces of ACME (sic) crates to build blueprints of vehicles. Cute and funny too.

But undoutedbly, one of the highlights of 1990 was Creatures. Another cute platform game, programmed by John and Steve Rowlands (now Apex Computer Productions) this involved the cute Clyde Radcliffe, a Fuzzy who could breathe flames and fire such weapons as the droopy to eliminate the demons and also save the Fuzzies from a fate worse than death in the Torture Chambers. Of course, to gain special weapons, Clyde would have them concocted in a witches' hut with a 36-24-36 perfect figured witch babe. What made the game unique was that the platform action interspersed itself with the torture screens, which were so fiendish and involved many chainsaws cutting up the Fuzzies in a cartoon way. By the way, the full acronym of Creatures (just to clear up any arguments) is "Clyde Radcliffe Exterminates All The Unfriendly Replusive Earth-ridden Slime". The game instructions didn't help by misspelling Clyde's name as Clyde Radcliff. :-(

1991: The Up'n down year
It started well enough, with the Rowlands' busy at work starting on Creatures 2 and having their game diary (like Creatures) appearing in Zzap! 64. However, due to Newsfield's financial problems, in October 1991 the future was uncertain. Newsfield went bump, Zzap! temporarily ceased publication until the publishing company Europress Impact stepped in, and so gamers were justifiably worried. However, help was at hand and eventually Thalamus resurfaced, trading as Thalamus Europe.

1992: A good year
Creatures 2 was released to massive applause. This time it meant lots of Torture Screens (due to popular demand) along with intermissions where you'd bounce Fuzzies to safety right to left. Oh, and some nice island hopping where you'd swim to safety with the Fuzzies. All cute, colourful and very popular with gamers.

At the time also Thalamus had another brainwave - and this was to start a fan club for fans of their games.

So 1992 also saw the release of Winter Camp, the Summer Camp follow up. Maximus Mouse was again cute in many a sub-game, and even Clyde Radcliffe appeared in one of the subgames! The game though was slated for excessive difficulty. Also Thalamus gained the licence to produce an Arsenal football computer game. It never materialised despite them having John Ferrari as programmer.

1993: The End of Thalamus
1993 was Thalamus' last game, Nobby The Aardvark. Heavily delayed due to legal wrangling, Genesis Software who'd made a few good games for Codemasters programmed a really cute game. As aardvarks go, Nobby was cute, and many varied levels of action gained accolades. But this was to be the last throw of the dice for Thalamus and they went into receivership.

One interesting thing for all you Thalamus fans to know about is that there's an internet service provider in Sweden called Thalamus. The company was started and named by Claes Magnusson, who went under the alias Charles McNewson when employed at American Action (Blood'n Guts, Infiltrator) in the old days. He was employed to take care of all the print work among other things.

An old employee?
If anyone reading this ever worked for Thalamus, or indeed produced any games for them, feel free to let us know your experiences of working there.

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